Main Street Movies

Main Street Movies

The History of Local Film in the United States
Martin L. Johnson
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 01/23/2018
Format: Hardback 23 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-03252-2
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"See yourself in the movies!"

Prior to the advent of the home movie camera and the ubiquitousness of the camera phone, there was the local film. This cultural phenomenon, produced across the country from the 1890s to the 1950s, gave ordinary people a chance to be on the silver screen without leaving their hometowns. Through these movies, residents could see themselves in the same theaters where they saw major Hollywood motion pictures. Traveling filmmakers plied their trade in small towns and cities, where these films were received by locals as being part of the larger cinema experience. With access to the rare film clips under discussion, Main Street Movies documents the diversity and longevity of local film production and examines how itinerant filmmakers responded to industry changes to keep sponsors and audiences satisfied. From town pride films in the 1910s to Hollywood knockoffs in the 1930s, local films captured not just images of local people and places but also ideas about the function and meaning of cinema that continue to resonate today.

Author Bio

Martin L. Johnson is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


“"The continuous power of the moving image as both self-reflection and time machine is analyzed, dissected, and painstakingly pieced back together to present a narrative of the local film that becomes national and global in its interpretation. Martin L. Johnson presents a thousand faces as a movement of film history. … He has taken a footnote in the early days of the movies in the United States and given it the platform this scholarship deserves." ”
 — Vanessa Toulmin, author of, Electric Edwardians: The Story of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection

“"A significant contribution to the study of the history of American film practice [and] reception."”
 — Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley author of, At the Picture Show: Small Town Audiences and the Creation of Movie Fan Culture

“This carefully researched and nuanced account of local film history is essential reading for researchers and students who are interested in understanding the evolution of film culture as it played out beyond Hollywood.”
 — Early Popular Visual Culture

“[A] quietly radical rewriting of American film history since the 1910s. ”
 — Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television

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Table of Contents

Accessing Moving Images
Introduction: Defining the Local Film
1. The Silent Pageant: Municipal Booster Films
2. The Home Talent Film and the Origins of Itinerancy
3. "How Movies Are Made": Hollywood and the Local Film
4. Itinerants Adopt a Baby: The Local Hollywood Film and the Operational Aesthetic
5. Kidnapping the Movie Queen: Amateur Aesthetics as Cultural Critique
6. The Cameraman Has Visited Your Town: The Local Film and the Politics of Recognition
7. Every Town has its Main Street: The Banal Localism of the Civic Film
8. Reclaiming the Local Film: Artifacts, Archives, and Audiences
Conclusion: See Your Town Disappear: The Historicity of the Local Film